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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

hooray Hillary

Hillary rising to challenges
ANALYSIS: Bronwen Maddox | October 14, 2009
The Times


HILLARY Clinton is proving an immensely good Secretary of State. Better than Condoleezza Rice - although it is easier to be the emissary of a president that much of the world adores. It doesn't hurt, too, not to have to defend a war the world loathes, although that may yet come.

She's almost doing better than Barack Obama on the world stage. No, she isn't a great symbolic figure, as he so self-consciously wants to be (even before the absurd Nobel Peace Prize), using his handcrafted speeches to straddle racial, ethnic and religious divisions.

Yesterday in Belfast, she sounded measured, technical, undramatic, acknowledging in words but absolutely not in tone the passions and bloodshed of the years of her husband's involvement in Northern Ireland's troubles. She also sounded humane, authoritative and intelligent. She hasn't upstaged Obama, or distorted his agenda into her own, as I thought she might on her appointment in January.

But somehow - and why assume it is just chance? - she is fronting the successes, while the President is gravitating towards the traps, the likely failures and possible disasters.

Her achievement is a surprise, because her campaign for the Democratic nomination for the presidency promised the opposite. At the time, Lord Trimble called her assertion that while accompanying her husband, she'd played a central role in Northern Ireland peace talks "a wee bit silly". It was. Her colourful sketch of arriving in Bosnia under gunfire betrayed not just a blindness about the eternal life of video footage, but a sense that foreign countries are a long way off and will never challenge your travellers' tales.

In contrast, she started her post with an astute move: the appointments of George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke as envoys to the Middle East and the Afghan and Pakistan problems. She saw the intense effort that both would need, and rightly that she should not be the one immersed in them.

Her attempt to "reset" relations with Russia in March was right, too. This month, she has given a thoughtful speech on aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan. On Monday she stood with Peter Robinson, the First Minister, and Martin McGuinness, his deputy - a feat in itself to get them together.

All right, under this intense spotlight, she looks less sleek than either Rice or Obama, but she looks good on television.

It helps that the State Department adores her. When she walked in on January 22, she got a standing ovation (unscripted). She has not, unlike Rice, had to fight battles within her department, and with the Pentagon. Yet Rice did herself few favours by asserting an unsubtle line on Iraq that flew in the face of the conflict's complexity, and by the end, was simply untrue.

In contrast, Obama has taken on himself, and not yet resolved, the greatest problems: untangling the conflict within his team over Afghanistan; the Middle East deadlock; Iran.

Of course, the responsibility falls on him, not her. But he seems paralysed in key decisions, while Clinton is everywhere, putting a less showy and more pithy script to the US's aims and its great dilemmas.

The Times

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